Date: 1 April 2011
Come rain or shine, this month's royal wedding is already a bonanza for British business. Royal wedding memorabilia is flooding the market, and the name on the label makes all the difference: "Kate," or "Catherine," to be exact.
In fact, most royal wedding merchandise does not bear "Brand Kate" at all-it refers to Kate, Catherine, or Princess Catherine, but only as a way of tying the goods to the event. Brands in fact have a different purpose-they tie goods or services to a single, guaranteed source that a customer can return to again and again. In contrast, the name KATE (or indeed WILLIAM) on a souvenir keychain, mug or other keepsake does not tell the buyer anything about who actually made or sold it.
Nonetheless, the power of celebrity names to get the cash tills ringing cannot be understated, and within a day of the royal engagement announcement some savvy sellers had already filed registered trademark applications to obtain legal monopolies in various versions of Kate Middleton's name.
If the state of the trademark registers is anything to go by, we can expect to see:
All these registrations may be used to stop others from selling identical or similar goods bearing the same or a confusingly similar mark. Moreover, with an initial term of 10 years, renewable indefinitely, these registrations will last a good deal longer than the royal wedding, and have the potential to outlast even a lifelong royal marriage itself.
With so many jumping on the registration bandwagon, souvenir hawkers should be worried - but only mildly so. References to KATE or CATHERINE on royal wedding souvenirs will virtually always be purely descriptive of goods bearing images of or otherwise associated with the princess-in-waiting, which should substantially reduce the risk of a successful infringement claim.
Trademark holders, for their part, should be circumspect about bringing claims; should the PRINCESS CATHERINE application be accepted for registration, for example, its proprietor would expose itself to an invalidity challenge, not to mention the ire of the British press, should it try to stop the sale by others of PRINCESS CATHERINE commemorative pins. Similarly, fire and brimstone would rain upon Halewood International should it try to stop other brewers from mentioning ROYAL WEDDING on their packs or in their advertising. Even the most buttoned-up judge is likely to agree that drinks manufacturers may fairly refer to the party of the year as a suitable occasion on which to imbibe, and such descriptive use is unlikely to infringe.
Arguably, though, the person who should be most concerned by the efforts of others to monopolise her name is Kate Middleton herself. She is conspicuous by her absence from the trademark registers, despite the evident star power of her name in commerce. The Royal Family is no longer above making money from trade, as the Prince of Wales' Duchy Originals business shows, and the names and images of glamorous princesses can clearly add sparkle and lustre to commercial offerings. While Ms Middleton may not need the independent income, a branded KATE line of products might provide a highly lucrative means of raising money for the new princess' preferred charities.
A refined and tasteful range of KATE fragrances, ha
nd lotions or potpourri, for example, or perhaps a KATE label for fine jewellery, might appeal to the public and reflect Ms Middleton's reputation for beauty, fashion and good taste. She will, however, need to take care: Kate Moss already owns a UK trademark registration for KATE for soaps, perfumes and cosmetics and Kathleen Rowley owns one for JEWELLERY BY KATE covering, unsurprisingly, jewellery, which could cause problems. They were, moreover, registered long before the royal engagement was announced, and presumably for very different reasons.
While trademark law provides some defences for those who use their own names, they are complex and may not apply where only part of a name is used. If Ms Middleton hopes to generate an income for herself or her charities on the back of her name, she should be seeking brand protection for it herself. Moreover, as rights in the UK typically belong to whoever first files a valid application, waiting too long can only damage her prospects.
Ms Middleton may not wish to interfere with the initiatives of companies like Numatic or Marston's, who trade in areas she is unlikely ever to contemplate. However, the first come, first served nature of the European trademark system means that the more rights are secured by others, the less room there will be for Ms Middleton herself. Failure to secure early rights in versions of her name that she might herself use as brands could, therefore, be a long-term mistake.
Sponsoring worthy causes is arguably the Royal Family's most important contribution to public life, and the power of Ms Middleton's name to draw in revenue for those causes is abundantly clear. The fact that so many businesses have already sought to monopolise her name as a trademark show that in using it, many see rich financial rewards. On behalf of her husband's future subjects, Ms Middleton should consider that too.
Friday, April 1, 2011